By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund
I'm a huge fan of having action-filled plots in my books. I don't like static, white-noise, or fluff in my stories. I want every scene to move the story along in an important way. In past posts I've addressed ways to develop riveting plots:
For example, in Creating a Book Readers Can't Put Down I give these four tips:
• Develop relatable characters
• Create and prolong suspense
• Increase conflict
• Use read-on-prompts
In 4 Ways to Add Caffeine to a Story, I lay out more ways to keep the plot moving:
• Use continuous but purposeful action
• Add plenty of new and interesting adventure
• Tighten the noose of danger and dilemma
• Make every scene count
As much as we want to rivet our readers, we can't have every scene end up in a gun-fight, car-chase, or barroom-brawl. We risk tiring our readers if we give them chapter after chapter of unrelenting, heart-stopping drama.
Plots need pacing, and that means that we'll have some slower scenes–perhaps a few paragraphs or even a few pages–between the fast scenes. We might use those slower-paced scenes to focus on a developing romance, or we could have our character do some important self-searching. Those are the times our readers can breathe and their heart rates can return to normal, before we sock them with the next dangerous situation or vamp up the conflict.
But . . . slow pacing and less intense scenes are not an excuse to bore our readers. We don't want to ramble on with issues or events that have no bearing on the plot. We don't want to give our readers an excuse to put down our books and NOT pick them back up.
So how, then, do we keep our reader's interest during the slower sections of the book? In other
words, how can we add or keep the momentum going?
One KEY way to keep the momentum going is to constantly have unanswered questions.
I've noticed the unanswered-question technique in a number of books I've read recently. In fact a couple of the books didn't necessarily have action-packed plots. But I found myself not wanting to put the books down regardless of the slower paces.
When I analyzed why I kept reading even though the action didn't move me along, I realized I was curious to discover the answers to questions the author had posed but hadn't answered.
Unanswered questions come on a micro and macro level.
On the macro level, we can have a much bigger question that remains unanswered for a large part of the book. We may leave out important back story until a later point which keeps our readers turning the pages so they can finally understand why a character is acting or responding a certain way. We drop hints, but we don't tell everything until a strategic point later in the book.
We might leave certain aspects of the plot or even minor characters a mystery. We may have unexplained events or strange happenings. Essentially we dangle a carrot but continually keep it out of reach until well into the later part of the book.
On the micro level, we tease our readers with smaller issues. We may have a mysterious knocking on the window, or a character who keeps showing up in the background. But we do this on a shorter term basis, from chapter to chapter. We introduce a mystery but rather than leaving our readers hanging throughout the book, we let them in on the answer sooner.
Too many unanswered questions placed too often can leave the reader frustrated. Too few used too infrequently can leave the reader bored. The trick is to weave in just enough so that those questions propel readers forward even when we slow the pacing, because we've perked their curiosity and placed within them the burning need to uncover the truth.
How well do you use the technique of leaving your reader hanging with unanswered questions? What are some other ways you help your readers to make it through the slower paced parts of your book?
Photo Credit: Flickr by access.denied
Labels: Craft of Writing
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